Pakistan’s nuclear programme
ACCORDING to the Realist school of thought, alliances and enmities in international relations are based on the pursuit of national interest which is considered the primary and enduring goal of states. In the early years of its independence, Pakistan faced economic challenges and sought alternatives to strengthen its security. It aligned itself with the Western Camp and ratified defence pacts such as SEATO in 1954 and CENTO in 1955. Pakistan believed that these alliances, under the leadership of the United States, would help protect it against potential Indian aggression.
During the 1950s, Pakistan also advocated for non-proliferation and disarmament, supporting UN resolutions on arms control. This reflected a normative posture towards conventional and nuclear proliferation. Pakistan’s shift from a normative approach to a strategic approach can be attributed to 2 main events in the 1960s and 1970s. These events reshaped Pakistan’s security policy based on the principle that states pursue policies that serve their interests in the best possible manner.
One of the important factors was that Pakistan, despite being a signatory of Western security pacts, the United States and its allies did not provide expected military and economic support during Pakistan’s war against India in 1965. The anticipation that Pakistan would get help from the West did not materialize; instead, the US imposed sanctions on Pakistan and prohibited the provision of military equipment and economic aid.
Another significant event was the 1971 war, which led to the disintegration of Pakistan. This war further reinforced the notion that the US is a fair-weather friend and would not support Pakistan against India. These events made Pakistan realize the need to prioritize its security interests and led to a reorientation of its policy from relying on external alliances to adopting a more self-reliant and strategic approach.
India’s test of its nuclear program in 1974 played a crucial role in Pakistan’s shift from a normative posture towards a nuclear program to a realistic approach. Pakistani policymakers recognized that if India, a belligerent regional power, became a nuclear-armed state, the existing strategic asymmetry would be further magnified in India’s favour.
As a result, Pakistan’s prospects of adhering to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) dwindled, as it would only consider becoming a party to the treaty if India did so as well. Pakistan conducted its first publicly acknowledged nuclear tests on May 28 and 30 1998. These tests were conducted in response to India’s nuclear tests earlier the same year.
In recent years, Pakistan has adopted a more resolute approach driven by geopolitical realities. Since 2010, Pakistan has maintained that it would only join the NPT as a recognized nuclear-weapon state. Pakistan views the NPT as discriminatory because it advocates for non-proliferation while recognizing five countries as “Recognized Nuclear Weapons States.” Moreover, the NPT has made limited progress in implementing provisions for disarmament. This disregard for NPT provisions by major powers underscores the treaty’s lack of strict enforcement mechanisms.
Pakistan declared that it will not enter into an arms race with any other country but remaining aware of evolving security dynamics in South Asia and also stated its intention to maintain a full spectrum deterrence capability to deter all forms of aggression. Pakistan perceives the rising hegemonic ambitions of India as a significant threat that disrupts the strategic stability in South Asia. In response to this perceived threat, Pakistan sees no choice but to maintain a strong stance regarding its nuclear deterrent. Pakistan views its nuclear arsenal as a means to counterbalance India’s growing capabilities and ensure its security in the region.
—The writer is Research Officer at Centre for International Strategic Studies, AJK.
Email: [email protected]